Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Barbacoa Ermita, Tijuana:Victor Torres' Hidalgo style pit roasted mutton

Barbacoa Ermita, Hidalgo's address in Tijuana

New Zealand lamb is Victor's choice for the best flavor

chick peas for consume

Guajillo and morita chiles to make the chile rub for pansita

Those who are very familiar with the cooking traditions of Mexico know about Hidalgo. Before the arrival of the Spanish in what is now Mexico, people in this region had perfected underground pit cooking with wild game, and their cooking traditions were cherished in the Aztec Empire.Barbacoa hidalguense is an art form. Pit roasted mutton slowly cooked wrapped in pencas de maguey(maguey spines) to an tender oily sheen , hand made pancita(offal stuffed lamb stomach with a chile rub), salsa borracha(drunken salsa), consome(broth with chickpeas, and fresh corn tortillas.

Every weekend, Tijuana's own Victor Torres, from Hidalgo where he learned the art of pit cookery, sells about 80-90 kilos of barbacoa served on some park benches set up in front driveway of his house, directly across the street from Tacos Salceados.On Thursday night he boils chile morita and guajillo for his chile rub, then cleans and takes apart his New Zealand lamb.Friday he gets to cooking until the dawns first light on Saturday as costumers start to trickle in at 8AM for the first seating. Like many other specialists in Mexico, the place is open 'til a set hour, but will close when the food is gone.Arrive late and you might miss his masterful pancita.As if his cooking wasn't reason enough, he is one of the most good-natured people you're ever going to come across. The whole family is so charming.

Just waiting to be stuffed, pansita

Kids love barbacoa,too.

I've been going to Barbacoa Ermita for over a year and recently had the chance to bring writers, chefs, and friends down for a Cotuco sponsored gastronomic tour through Tijuana.Although our group was exhausted from the day before, they soon were animated by the view of Victor's above ground pit exposing tempting scents and views of succulent barbacoa.

Victor ladels some consume for a lucky customer.

The barbacoa and pancita are cooked suspended above a well where the roasted meat drips into savory consome. Victor cooks his lamb perfectly with hints of light pink in the center of his meat. There's only one place I know north of the border that does this right and that's Aqui es Texcoco, first reported by my friend Alex of Chowhound.No one really delivers barbacoa excellence in LA.

Right across the street from Victor's driveway, Tacos Salceados.

Perfect Hidalgo style consume.

Vistor has barbacoa, the best pancita around, gorgeous consome, mixiotes(chilied lamb steamed in maguey paper), and certified salsas from the core of barbacoa hidalguense. Two drunken salsas, the first a guajillo chile salsa traditionally crocked by pulque, then a chile de arbol salsa spiked with beer.A tart fresh salsa made from jalapenos makes for a powerful salsa triumvirate.His pancita is where you should first try this delicacy. He cleans it right and delivers luscious and funky flavors, the texture is so pleasurable. It has form and structure, not just a loose gathering of offal like it can be.

Three fresh and distinctive salsas.

Delicate barbacoa with salsa chile de arbol.

With only his young assistant to serve us on the day of the FAM visit, Victor cranked out the bowls of consome, kilos of barbacoa and pancita, and warmed homemade corn tortillas. He even has a fresh agua de jamaica.It was a kick watching mi compadre, Eddie Lin, running around looking for spare chunks of pancita. I think he even forgot to take video here in his offal maddened state.

a half kilo of mutton and stuffed stomach.

Barbacoa Ermita is a nice sit down local family establishment. It makes me all warm and fuzzy inside watching young Tijuana children enjoying barbacoa tacos and a nice consome. Wonder if I could convince my friend's children to put down the chicken nuggets for this taste of Hidalgo?

Funky delicious pancita.

Barbacoa is only open on Saturdays and Sundays. The rest of the week, Victor removes the benches from the driveway and relaxes with his family.He is a genuine specialist only working his craft as his birthright dictates, with humility and purpose. You must hit this spot when in Tijuana for a weekend breakfast indulgence from the opulent culinary tradition of Hidalgo.

Victor Torres, Hidalgo's ambassador of barbacoa.

Tender mixiote.

Locals enjoying Hidalgo style breakfast.

Our recent blogger/writer/restauranteur trip sponsored by Cotuco.Eddie Lin says,"who has the pancita!"

Barbacoa Ermita
Av. Ermita, 807
Mesa Otay
Open Saturday and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

"Little Brazil",Culver City,CA-A gastronomic tour through a yet unnamed Brazilian enclave in LA

The courtyard of the Brazilian Mall displays the pattern on the sidewalks of Copacabana in Rio de Janeiro.

Salgados(savories)in the fridge at the Supermercado Brazil.

Dende oil(palm oil) and pimenta(malagueta peppers in vinegar) at El Camaguey.

If you've spent any time in the Culver City traveling on Venice Bl. from where the Camaguey Market is located on Veteran Ave. heading east to just past Clarington Ave. where Brasa Brasil Grill is located, you've probably heard Portuguese spoken on the streets. The number of Brazilian restaurants and businesses has grown in recent years.There's even a Brazilian Mall across the street from Cafe Brazil, one of the older Brazilian restaurants in Culver City.

I say it's time for a "Little Brazil". Many already have referred to this area at a Brazilian enclave, or community.Here you can eat a variety of Brazilian cuisines, shop for sexy Brazilian bikinis, stock up on authentic ingredients Brazilian recipes, buy an Ivete Sangalo DVD, and send money to your family in Rio.

Some of the best Brazilian cooking is found spread all over the greater Los Angeles area.Natalaia Pereira hails from Minas Gerais and brings elegant home cooking to her downtown Woodspoon.Moqueca, a newcomer in far away Oxnard, brings the cuisine of Espiritu Santo, home of the original moqueca capixaba. It has a full menu of moqueca(seafood stews) and rare regional dishes. The cooking of Sao Paulo is well represented at El Sereno's Taste of Brazil, where a fine feijoada is available every day, among other sold plates. There are churrascarias all over Los Angeles, the best being Fogo de Chao, a chain from Brazil. But, recent events in "Little Brazil" with the arrival of Luciene Peck at Rio Brasil Cafe, the discovery of Sabor da Bahia's Brazilian street food, and Nalva at Zabumba have raised the stakes for substantial regional cooking.

Acaraje to go at Sabor da Bahia, at an apartment near Overland and Venice Bl.

A mural at the Brazilian Mall displays the culture, history, and diversity of Brazil.


Cafe Brasil
It always feels like summer here, and is the ideal setting to enjoay an afternoon in LA. It feels like Brazil. The juices here are the real deal, passionfruit sweetened with real sugar cane juice tastes as good as the juice stands in Rio.They also have a sugar cane juice make from fresh stalks, surprisingly mild in flavor. Best bets here are the prato feito(complete meals), a protein with all the Brazilian sides, rice, beans, greens, and farofa(manioc meal).The pasteis(pastries) are nice too, they're very light on filling, but still are enjoyable.Try the hearts of palm pastel.

Pampas Grill
This is the second branch opened by this excellent por kilo(by the kilo)restaurant. The food is weighed, a very popular type of service in Brazil, and then you pay for what you eat. The salad bar is immaculate, the pratos quentes(hot plates) are textbook versions of Brazilian classics like stroganafe and abobara(pumpkin).They have 7 cuts of churrasco, 2 more than their Farmer's Market location, and beer and wine.This is an authentic por kilo, well received in the Brazilian community for its flavor,authenticity and quality.Por kilo is a great way to go when you don't want the full churrascaria experience.

Rio Brasil Cafe, (formerly, Brazilian Exotic Foods)
This restaurant opened in the former location of Cafe Toros followed by Delicias do Brasil, was closed for a minute, and has reopened as Rio Brasil Cafe. I went before it closed, was excited to try more of their plates, then was saddened by the sign saying they were closed. I received word that they were back, a tough time to open a specialty restaurant, but had a chance to dine there the other day. This cooking is from Rio De Janeiro's Luciene Peck. Try bobo de camarao(shrimp in a yuca cream),kibe de forno(baked kibe),casquinha de siri(Bahia's crab au gratin),or her awesome feijoada, when available.This restaurant is a shoestring operation, but the cooking here is top notch.It will be formidible when they can bring a full menu.They make brilliant salgados(savories) and will have these available when they get a hood for their deep fryer.I tried the bobo de camarao the other day and was brought to tears.It's worth a trip for this dish alone.

Sabor da Bahia
Reni an Ilma make acaraje and abara from their apartment near Overland and Venice. They bring authentic Bahia street food to "Little Brazil."One of the best kept secrets in LA.

Always a great place to check out a variety of local live music acts,but was never a food destination. That's until Nalva arrived. Nalva is another talented Baiana that recently took over the kitchen. Zabumba is open thursday through sunday evenings for a number of music themed nights. Everything here is delicious and filled with love. Salgados fried perfectly, devastating feijoada, addicting Brazilian pizzas, and home cooked moqueca de peixe(fish stew bahia style)She makes the best pao de queijo(cheese bread) in town. Try the peixe com molho de maracuja(fish in passionfruit sauce), or just a plain misto quente( the ubiquitous ham and cheese sandwich from Brazil).

The sleek and friendly Supermercado Brazil, has all the eats and treats from back home.

The Mall
The Brazilian Mall has a great store called Supermercado Brazil. They have frozen salgados and other foods to go, everything you need to make traditional Brazilian foods, music and DVD's, beverages like Guaranana, Brazilian coffees and sweets, and yes they have Havaiana's and bikinis. There is a Brazilian beauty salon next door, and coming soon, a Brazilian pizzeria.The courtyard of the small Brazilian Mall has the same pattern of the floor as the beach walk on Copacabana Beach, Rio de Janeiro.Brazil Explore magazine has an office here too.

Nalva's pao de queijo is killer at Zabumba.

The Markets
El Camaguey
This place has a full spectrum of latin american products, but a strong emphasis on Brazilian foods due to the needs of the local community. You can get picanha cut by the butcher for your backyard churrasco, carne seca(cured beef), bacalhau(salt cod), and all the condiments necessary to spice the Brazilian way.

Palms Super Market
I've never been here, but they are known to carry Brazilian products as well.

Brazilian calabresa(sausage)pizza, I crave it!

There are places to send money back to loved ones in Brazil. The restaurants are frequented by Brazilians and there is a real Brazilian community living here as well. You hear Globo blasting on TV sets as you walk around the residential streets around here. One of the oddest experiences I had here was watching the Brazil vs. France World Cup match back in '04 at Cafe Brazil along with Brazilians and Brazilian soccer fans. When Brazil lost, all of us wearing our green and yellow were taunted and heckled by several cars driving by proudly flying the flag of France.I couldn't believe my eyes.The French knew where to go, Little Brazil.

Mandioca(fried manioc), coxinha(little chicken leg), and kibe(brought by Lebanese immigrants to Brazil) are top notch salgadinhos at Zabumba.

Zabumba stirs up the night with reggae and salsa, but come for the food.

bacalhau(salted cod), and carne seca(cured beef) available for Brazilian cooks in the Palms and Culver City area, at El Camaguey.

The new Pampas at Culver Center is even better than the original at the Farmer's Market.

Come to "Little Brazil".Try the exciting cooking of Rio Brasil Cafe, Nalva at Zabumba, and get some acaraje to go from Sabor da Bahia.Enjoy the diverse restaurants, listen to Axe being played on the patio at Cafe Brazil. Pick up a copy Carnaval 2009 on DVD over at Supermercado Brazil and a cold Guarana. It already exists, so let's make it official.

Fresh salads at Pampas.

The suco de maracuja(passionfruit juice) at Cafe Brazil is made with sugar cane juice, it tastes like a walk on sands of Ipanema Beach.

Pratos Quentes(hot plates) are classic Brazilian at Pampas.

The latino market featuring many Brazilian products.

Cafe Brazil, still a great way to pass a lazy summer afternoon.

Pastel de palmitos(hearts of palm pastry) at Cafe Brazil.

Rio-Brazil Cafe (former Brazilian Exotic Foods Restaurant) hangs in there in this tough economy.

The Restaurants

Cafe Brasil
10831 Venice Blvd
Los Angeles CA 90034

Pampas Grill
3857 Overland Ave
Culver City, CA 90232
(310) 836-0080

Rio Brasil Cafe(formerly Brazilian Exotic Foods)
3300 Overland Avenue
Suite 103
Los Angeles, CA 90034
United States
ph: 310.558.3338
fax: 310.558.3307

Sabor da Bahia
catering and orders to go(call first)
Fridays-acaraje and abara

Zabumba(Cozinha da Nalva-Nalva's cooking)
10717 Venice Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90034
(310) 841-6525
Thursday through Sunday nights
7Pm 'til late

Brazilian Mall
10826 Venice Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90232
(310) 837-4291

El Camaguey
10925 Venice Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90034
310) 839-4037

Palms Super Market
3568 Motor Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90034

El Conchal-Tijuana: Sinaloan seafood from El Paisa, master coctelero

A touch of Sinaloa outside the Mercado Hidalgo, El Conchal

A coctelero takes a break from shucking oysters, pata de mula, and clams.

Almeja preparada, fresh clam prepared on the shell with Sinaloan tang.

firm and full flavored pata de mula(mangrove cockles)

The knife skills of Sinaloan cocteleros is an art form.

The carretas(street carts) of Sinaloa are numerous,featuring highly skilled cocteleros and cocteleras specializing in the raw seafood preparations of their state. Oysters,pata de mula(mangrove cockles),a variety of clams, abalone are shucked from a plenitude of fresh and delectable specimens. Tostadas accentuate individual ingredients or are stacked in baroque layers of divine combinations both of raw and cooked seafood.They are served wet in a bath of Sinaloan nectar, usually a local version of V-8, lime, and seasonings. Botanas(snacks) of scallops called callo de hacha, raw shrimp in lime and chile called aguachiles, and whatever else is available that day are highlighted with simple flavoring of lime, sea salt and season combinations,chiles, fringed with fresh cucumber and purple onion. The chiles of choice are the dry little balls of fury called chiltepin, chile de arbol, and fresh jalapeno.

An aguachile in molcajete.

El Conchal, located outside the Mercado Hidalgo in Tijuana walks firmly in the traditions and flavorings of their home state, Sinaloa. Their owner, a stocky and humorous character, calls everyone "Paisa".A common endearment used among the people of Sinaloa, meaning, countryman. Everybody is paisa at El Conchal.Paisa over there needs an aguachile, and Paisa over there wants pata de mula.

For the Sinaloan, selecting the finest ingredients and old hand knife skills are the cocteleros(cocktailer) art forms. The way the scallops are cut for callo de hacha affects the flavor and texture, just as in a sushi masters craft. El Conchal has a coctelero to shuck bivalves, another to assemble the tostadas and make the special preparations like the maleficio, a special raw shrimp cocktail that uses no ketchup.

The peerless callos de hacha.

At El Conchal, callos de hacha are sublime, with the texture of a tender steak, and the natural flavor of local catalina scallops. They must be firm to make callo de hacha. Aguachiles are served in molcajetes,earthily flavored by the volcanic rock vessel. Choose your spiciness and ask for chiltepin. The raw shrimp are flash cooked in the lime with fresh cucumber and purple onion, made to order. The tostadas, raw or cooked shrimp with supple octopus, and some abalone.This tostada is called La Especial.The maleficio is a V-8 and lime cocktail with raw shrimp served in a cup, accented by a little soy sauce.The shrimp ceviche tostada is definitive here at this humble shack.

The tostada especial, with octopus, abalone, and cooked shrimp drenched in sabor sinaloense.

You can get oysters and pismo clams served au natural, or prepared, with diced vegetables and condimented with hotsauce. Pata de mula, reina clams(white shell), and chocolatas(chocolate shell)are found at El Conchal.Shrimp ceviche on a tostada, another time-honored course from Sinaloa.

There are many Sinaloan seafood street carts,stands and restaurants in Tijuana, Sinaloans being the largest migrant population in Tijuana, but El Conchal is one of the best carretas.Perhaps they stand alone for this style of service.Pure Sinaloan credentials from El Paisa, the man from Culiacan, part of the serious group of stellar eats in and around Mercado Hidalgo.

Tostada of shrimp ceviche.

El Conchal
calle Francisco Javier Mina
Mon-Fri 8AM-5PM, Sat-Sun 8AM-6PM
just northwest of Tacos El Gordo near
the entrance of the Mercado Hidalgo
open daily(mornings and afternoons only)

The 4th Annual East LA Meets Napa:Alta Med raises LA's temperature with latin wine and flavor.

Salsa is the reason!

A couple of Latinas enjoying wine, East LA meets Napa realized!

On Friday July 10, 2009, Alta Med hosted its 4th annual East La Meets Napa.42 tasting booths featuring a variety of restaurants from East LA and throughout the City of Angels, and Latino-owned or operated wineries from Napa.Union Station was the perfect place for this event.

This was my first time and I was blown away. It was a party, sizzling with Latinos and non-Latinos alike. The beautiful crowd danced to a live salsa band, mixed and mingled, and indulged in the many tastes of East LA. From the legendary restaurants serving East LA Mexican like El Tepeyac,Teresita's, Birrieria Chalio, and La Parrilla; to authentic offerings from Guelaguetza, La Casita, and Moles La Tia;the local stylings of Cook's Tortas and Homegirl Cafe; to the Nuevo Latino kitchen's of Phlight, Seta, and Rivera, it was a truely definitive Los Angeles experience.

The earthy birria at Chalio.

At the premier for the event I heard Castulo de la Rocha, AltaMed president and CEO, speak of AltaMed's mission to help bring health care to the underpriviledged in Los Angeles. He spoke briefly, and then grabbed a glass of wine and toasted to our health. This event supports a worthy cause, but once you arrive, you can dance the night away, eat like a king,enjoy some excellent wines, and know that you've arrived to a celebration. You're in the door, you've supported the cause, now let's eat and drink!

Los Angeles knows how to party.

I can't think of an event in recent times that was so Latino centric, but felt purely Los Angeles. To not attend this shindig is to miss a part of LA. This is an annual event to keep in mind.

Congo Room brings spice to LA.

Alive with laughter and conversation, East LA style.

Vaya salsero!

Ramiro Arvizu and the crew at the La Casita booth from Bell, CA.

And, the food.There were so many good options that Javier and I had to really plan our rounds bite by bite. My memorable bites? The mini chiles en nogada at La Casita, the birria at Birrieria Chalio, Seta's shortribs in sage sauce, the profoundly flavored meats at Cook's Tortas, Guelaguetza's mini tamal, the strawberry mole at Moles La Tia, and the nice traditional stew at Teresita's. La Monarcha Bakery had a fine empanada, too.

It's also a great opportunity to say hello to your favorite chefs and learn about new wines. The wines? For me,the big surprise of the night was the Pinot Noir at Ceja. Again and again, I hit their booth for another taste, hell, I was drinking not tasting. J. Lohr, Sequoia Grove, Encanto, Karl Lawrence, and the San Antonio Winery also had nice wines.We were surrounded by abundance, a hot and spicy massage of the senses.

Chiles en nogada and flan, La Casita.

Three moles from the palate of Rocio Camacho of Moles La Tia.

Cook's Tortas choice fillings.

Ceja's pinot noir was a favorite that night.

Guelaguetza's oaxacan tamal paired with a pickled jalapeno and mexican cheese.

The salsa band was fantastic, featuring many friends of mine from my musician life. It was great seeing those guys. The crowd, with many a Latino present, wasn't afraid to get on the floor as soon as the band hit. The crowd was full of spice, laughter, and excitement. It was great to see such a young and vibrant crowd, too. Watching 20 something Latinas enjoy wines with friends while eating tacos de birria was a beautiful thing indeed.

Make your plans now for next year.Taste a bit of Los Angeles in the heart of downtown, and experience the Latino flavor that is part of the unique diversity we enjoy here in our special city.See you at the 5th annual East LA Meets Napa.Bring your dancing shoes.

John Sedlar of Rivera takes a break from the action at Union Station.

Family and friend at Ceja charm the crowd with friendly Napa wines.

A couple dances to the sounds, sights, and delicious home cooking of East LA.

Annual Fund Raiser for:

See all the pictures